After a day of workshopping this week, a teacher gave me some honest feedback. “You need to be more clear on the questions you ask. It wasn’t really clear what you wanted us to do or what you were looking for.” After thanking the teacher for this honest and helpful feedback, another teacher at the table pounced in. “That is the point!”, she exclaimed. And of course, she was right.
I pointed out to the first teacher that, in fact, I had not asked any questions of the working groups at all. I had issued a challenge for the groups to think collaboratively and expansively, to co-generate and share some new ideas within a broad set of guidelines. Then I had backed off, answered some questions, waited for the outcomes, and facilitated feedback. (In an after-action meeting, there was pretty universal agreement that the outcomes, despite the lack of a proscribed roadmap, were outstanding!)
Hopefully the meaning of this real-life parable is obvious. Many of us are uncomfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. We want to be told what is expected of us. That is how we learned in school and it forms our comfort zone. But students are not uncomfortable with similar ambiguity and freedom to think and work creatively, at least at younger ages before they have that bit of their natural DNA carved out of them by our current education system. I have enormous empathy for the teacher who provided this feedback; she clearly was uncomfortable with the dissonance created by the lack of a clearly-defined process and expected outcome. I would have felt the same had I attended a professional development day and been tasked to quickly create a piece of art or invent a new physics formula.
The reaction from this teacher represents a fundamental fork in the road:
- Are we going to create a learning system that embraces ambiguity and creates a broader range of potential learning directions and outcomes for our students?
- Or are we going to continue to largely craft the path for our students?
- If the former, are we willing to model and embrace that uncertainty ourselves?
The honest feedback this teacher offered reminds me that there are always 10-20% of my audiences, perhaps more, who feel this way but who are too nice to say so. I need to help all of my co-learners make this connection, not only the ones to whom it is obvious. After that it is up to each of us to decide which fork in the road we prefer.